Friday, May 01, 2009

David Kilcullen on Insurgencies and Ideological Movements

Militiaman in Najaf, Iraq (2004)
Photo by Joao Silva
(Image from The New York Times)

Janine di Giovanni has a good review of David Kilcullen's book, The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One.

Why should we care? Because:
David Kilcullen is a former officer in the Australian Army, a strategist . . . a scholar, . . . . an expert on counterinsurgency, . . . and one of the few brave souls who had the ear of people in the Bush White House and advised against the invasion of Iraq.
But also because:
[Concerning] Iraq and Afghanistan, . . . he still sees [them] as "winnable" with a long-term commitment.
Giovanni tells us that Kilcullen has read the French military expert on counterinsurgency, David Galula, who learned from France's colonial wars in North Africa as well as his diplomatic service in East Asia, where he observed the rise of communism. "Galula's thesis," according to Giovanni, "is that one aim of war is to support the local population rather than control the territory."

For those of us who have been paying attention in Iraq, this aim will sound familiar, for it has been the essence of General David Petraeus's strategy there. And little wonder, for:
Kilcullen went on to advise Condoleezza Rice and helped Gen. David Petraeus implement the 2007 surge -- which, up to a point, he believes has been successful, largely because of his friend Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker.
I read a book by David Galula several years ago, about a year after 9/11, but I guess that I should look at him again. According to Giovanni, Kilcullen read Galula when he was doing his doctoral work in political anthropology and learned from Galula to go directly to the primary sources (a bit more 'primary' than my own doctoral work on the Gnostics):
Part of Kilcullen's academic research involved living and working alongside villagers in West Java, trying to absorb the culture of Dar'ul Islam, a guerrilla movement hatched in the late 1940s (and later identified by some as an Indonesian clone and ally of Al Qaeda).

What Kilcullen wanted to do was to observe the movement the way the locals did -- not from the "official version I could find in books." So he lived in villages and conversed with his curious neighbors about blue jeans and the Internet, until they trusted him enough to share ­information.

"You should talk to old Mrs. N, her husband was an imam who worked with the movement," was the kind of lead Kilcullen would get after a time. And with patience and cunning, he built up the knowledge he needed.
From what he gleaned, he learned to distinguish between local wars (with their 'accidental' guerrillas) and the larger-scale ideological movements (with their true-believing militants) to which they get linked up:
[The latter] is the larger international movement: the Long War, as the Pentagon calls it, against Al Qaeda. The [former] . . . , though largely ignored, is equally crucial: the uprisings of local networks and fighters. These are small insurgencies seeking autonomy that align themselves intentionally (or sometimes not) with the larger movement.
How does that alignment get established? Here's how:
Discussing the tribal areas of Pakistan, Kilcullen shows how Al Qaeda moved in by taking over communities -- establishing bonds by marrying local women, operating businesses, eventually recruiting the villagers as fighters.
I recall that Al Qaeda in Iraq attempted this with the large tribes in the eastern, Anbar Province, but it didn't work. The tribes didn't want to marry off their women to the outsiders, and Al Qaeda responded with a brutality that alienated the locals, resulting in the phenomenon called "Anbar Awakening." I wonder why the intermarriage strategy has worked in Pakistan. Anyway, once such links are established, the next phase begins:
Al Qaeda establishes its presence in a remote area of conflict, then penetrates the population the same way influenza infects a weakened immune system. Contagion occurs when the safe haven is used to spread violence. When outside forces intervene, disrupting the safe haven, the local population aligns with Al Qaeda. The terrorists' effort is meant to be long lasting, and it's highly effective.
The terrorists use their haven -- now reinforced if the outside forces fail -- to spread their influence by disrupting neighboring areas and then coming in to establish order, the process outlined in Abu Bakr Naji's Management of Savagery and commented upon in previous blog entries of mine, such as this one, but which sometimes fails to work (much to certain people's annoyance). How can we ensure that it fails much more often? Giovanni summarizes Kilcullen's solution:
Counterinsurgency, he says, "demands the continuous presence of security ­forces"; "local alliances and partnerships with community leaders; creation of self-­defending populations"; and "operation of small-unit ground forces in tandem with local security forces."
In short, a long-term commitment. Is the world up to that? The Islamists may be.

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